David Van Reybrouck

Portrait David Van Reybrouck
David Van Reybrouck [© Lenny Oosterwijk]

The Dutch-speaking Belgian author, historian, and archaeologist David Van Reybrouck was born in Bruges in 1971. He studied archaeology and philosophy in Leuven, obtained a master’s degree in archaeology from Cambridge University, and completed his PhD at Leiden University in 2000. Initially, he worked for the Archives of European Archaeology and as a cultural historian at the University of Leuven. He was also editor of the journal »Archaeological Dialogues« and participated in various anthropological exhibition projects.

In 2001, Van Reybrouck made his debut as an author with »De Plaag« [tr: The Plague], which weaves together the themes of South Africa, entomology, and Maeterlinck in a mixture of biography, autobiography, and reporting. The book was nominated for various prizes and won several awards, and Van Reybrouck himself adapted it for the stage. After the success of his second play, »N«, about an encyclopaedist in Africa, he ended his academic career in 2005 to devote himself entirely to writing. He published his first novel »Slagschaduw« [2007; tr: Cast Shadows] two years later. This was followed by the provocative non-fiction book »Pleidooi voor populisme. Pamflet« [2008; tr: A Plea for Populism], which addresses the underrepresentation of less educated groups in politics. Van Reybrouck achieved greater fame with his work »Congo. Een geschiedenis« [2010; Eng. »Congo: The Epic History of a People«, 2014], which he worked on for six years. In a composition of observations, journalistic distance, archive material, and interviews with over 500 Congolese individuals, he describes the history of the Congo from its colonial past to the present. The work received several awards, such as the AKO Literatuurprijs, the Prix Médicis essai, the NDR Kultur Sachbuchpreis, and the Premio Kapuściński.

Van Reybrouck is an advocate for the lottery as a way to save democracy, which he explained in his 2013 appeal »Tegen Verkiezingen« [tr: Against Elections]. In »Revolusi. Indonesië en het ontstaan van de moderne wereld« [2020; tr: Revolusi: Indonesia and the Birth of the Modern World] he again applies the same principles used in his Congo book and combines historical interpretation and interviews with survivors to explore Indonesia’s path to independence. In his essay »Zink« [2016; tr: Zinc], which won the European Book Prize, he details the history of the micronation of Neutral Moresnet.

Van Reybrouck also writes poetry and founded the Brussels Dichterscollectief with Peter Vermeersch in 2009. His play »Missie« [tr: Mission] was shown at the Haus der Berliner Festspiele and at the Wiener Festwochen, »Para« has also been seen on stages internationally.

He is honorary chairman of PEN Vlaanderen, director of G1000, a platform for democratic innovation in Belgium, and chairman of FIDE [Federation for Democratic Innovation Europe]. In autumn 2021, he was a visiting professor at the Hannah Arendt Center, Bard College, New York. The author received an honorary doctorate from the University of Saint Louis in Brussels and lives in Brussels and Amsterdam.

Date: 2022